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Apples and Individuality

One of the best things about living in western Wisconsin is the quality and variety of apples. When fall comes around, there’s a true bounty to pick from: Haralson, honeycrisp, cortland, McIntosh, honeygold, fireside, chestnut crab, Whitney crab, gala, red baron, sweet 16, wolf river, Connell red, northwest greening, regent... the list goes on. More apples, for sure, than I ever imagined growing up, when it seemed like all we ever saw in stores was red delicious, golden delicious, and the pointlessly (to me) mushy and flavorless rome beauty apples.

The thing I find particularly striking is that they’re all so different. A couple of years after we first moved out here, we went on an expedition to a local apple orchard, pencil and paper in hand, sampling and taking notes about the different varieties. We also took home and boiled up samples to see which might work best for cooking. Each family member had his or her own favorites — though all of us were fond of the honeycrisp, which never seems to get mushy, and the chestnut crab, a tiny, sweet, intensely flavorful, almost spicy apple that’s only in season for about three weeks. We’re not terribly fond of the northwest greenings, recommended locally for pies, which to us have a chalky consistency. Instead, we use the Haralsons, which are so intensely flavored that we have to nearly double the amount of sugar in our pie recipe and still cut them with other, blander varieties before we can manage more than a few bites.

Come to think of it, using nothing but Haralsons might help with my weight problem. I certainly wouldn’t eat as many pie slices...

Back when I was a child, I used to eat red delicious apples, though I don’t care for them much now. The shape of the red delicious is quite distinctive, in a way that gave rise (in my case) to a unique process for eating it. I’d start by biting off the five bumps at the tuft end of the apple. Then I’d use my teeth to peel and eat long strips of skin along the ribs that ran from the bumps on the tuft end up to the top — leaving behind five vertical islands of skin, more or less evenly space around the middle of the apple. I would peel off each of these in turn, resulting in a completely bare, skinless apple. And then I would proceed with regular bites, following no particular pattern, until it was consumed.

This wasn’t the only fruit I’d eat in my own peculiar way. Bananas, for instance, can be split into lengthwise thirds by poking a finger into either end and wiggling a bit. And watermelon slices, outside the lovely seed-free center patch, have their seeds arranged in a pattern of whorls, so that if you use just the right size of spoon and position it just right, you can twist the spoon around and get little round chunks that are mostly without seeds. I have vague recollections, from when I was lucky enough to have an end piece, of digging out tunnels in my watermelon that represented warring cities, all competing to dig deeper and drain the juice from their neighbors. Even my eating habits revealed my inclination toward epic fantasy...

Everyday, in every way, each of us is just a little bit weird. That’s pretty much what I’ve concluded, and I think there’s a lot to back up such a claim. Except, of course, for those days and ways that some of us are a whole lot weird.

Certainly the other members of my family have their own ways of being weird. Back when my daughter was young, she used to look for “families” everywhere, as shown in the following (typical) breakfast dialogue: “Mommy crepe?” “Yes, baby crepe.” “Let’s go home to [my daughter’s name’s] tummy!” I could provide lots more examples, and you could do the same. There are no purely normal, average people: only those we don’t yet know well enough to perceive their eccentricities.

Unfortunately, this raises problems with Mormon theology, if viewed from a properly skewed angle.

Mormon doctrine holds that while humans all are subject to sin, weakness, and error, we have the potential — through the grace of God — to become like God, partaking of his perfection. The problem rises in how you define “perfection.” Is it — as I’ve heard argued — to become exactly like God in every particular (except for gender in the case of girls)? Same voice, same eyebrows, same way of thinking? Does everyone in heaven sound the same? Will I be able to sing soprano? Or will I just be a really, really good tenor?

For myself, I’ve come to believe that in this (as in so many things) a balance governs. Yes, there are some universal patterns. At the same time, I can’t believe there would be such a diversity in our realm of experience — things, people, climates, voices, apples, and all — if God didn’t rejoice in diversity. As the poet Gerard Manley Hopkins put it:

Glory be to God for dappled things —
            For skies of couple-colour as a brinded cow;
                        For rose-moles all in stipple upon trout that swim;

Fresh-firecoal chestnut-falls; finches’ wings;
            Landscape plotted and pieced — fold, fallow, and plough;
                        And all trades, their gear and tackle and trim.

All things counter, original, spare, strange;
            Whatever is fickle, freckled (who knows how?)
                        With swift, slow; sweet, sour; adazzle, dim;

He fathers-forth whose beauty is past change:
                                    Praise him. (“Pied Beauty”)

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Jonathan Langford ( is a freelance writer and editor who lives in western Wisconsin with his wife and two children (his oldest is currently serving a mission in western Washington state). His first novel, No Going Back, a 2009 Whitney Award finalist for best general fiction by an LDS author, describes a Mormon teenage boy’s struggle to remain faithful despite his homosexual feelings. Langford is also coauthor of the Latter-day Saint Family Encyclopedia, due for release from Thunder Bay Press in November 2010.

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